Cricket, Widget and Snip


After my first rats, Paint and Smudge, died I needed some time off to decide if I really wanted to have rats again. Their lives were so intense and rewarding that their deaths were devastating. I spent about eight months thinking it over and deciding if it was worth it or not. Over the months, I found that the dark memories of Paint and Smudge's deaths receeded, and most of my memories of them were happy ones from their lives. So I decided to get more rats. I would get males this time, largely because Paint and Smudge had died of tumors and I wanted to avoid that scenario again if possible.

Cricket, Widget and Snip at about 6 weeks of age.

On September 7, 2002, I attended a rat adoption event put on by Rattie Ratz, a local rat rescue group. One little black rat with a white stripe on his forehead leaped out of the cage and onto the floor, and I scooped him up and played with him for an hour. He was incredibly tame. After an hour, I picked two more out of the cage: a black one with a half-white nose, and a little black-hooded rat. I named them Cricket, Widget and Snip.

One of the first things I noticed about these young males was their tameness. Paint and Smudge had been pet store rats: they tried to get away from me, stiffened or struggled when picked up, and grabbed my hands and spun their tails like they thought I was going to drop them. It took months of handling before Paint would relax in my hands, and Smudge never really enjoyed handling at all.

These young males, however, had been hand-reared from day one, and what a difference! On their first day with me they were tamer than Paint was after months of socialization. Not only did they never bite or struggle, they actually approached me and allowed themselves to be picked up, their bodies soft and trusting and relaxed in my hands. If I came close to the cage they would swarm up the side nearest to me and would try to get out on my arm. The little white one nearly fell asleep while being petted on his very first day. They were an absolute joy.

Snip, Widget and Cricket at 7 months.

For a while I kept them in the dining room, but they were too much of a distraction, so I moved them to the home office where they kept me company during much of the day while I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation. I adapted Paint and Smudge's huge Annex for its new location, and this worked well for several months. I soon coaxed them out on my desk, and they ran up and down the 10-foot runway with great enthusiasm.

Over the long run, however, I found the Annex was not suitable for them: for one, three males smell more than two females, and the Annex was too time-consuming to clean as often as necessary. For another, these little males soon grew larger than adult females, and the tight corners and narrow passageways were just too cramped for them -- they'd have traffic jams which led to fighting.

So I disassembled the Annex and allowed the young males to roam about on the floor of the office for a little free range time each day. This turned out to be very rewarding to watch! With a whole floor to run about in, they displayed a whole suite of behaviors. They explored... creeping out from a known area, darting back, creeping a little further, darting back again. They tested objects with their teeth (they required strict supervision here to avoid damage). They carried things off, hauling large objects carrying small ones. And they climbed! They leaped on top of books, boldly ascended the bookshelf, crawled up the electrical wires along the back of the computers (ack!) then made a daring vertical leap for the top of my desk.

They also leaped up legs, which went badly for all parties if the human happened to be wearing shorts: the rat found himself up against a treacherously smooth surface and used all sixteen claws to slow his descent, while the human's shins were raked from knee to ankle. Humans can learn, however, and soon we wore nothing but long pants during free-range time (or kept our bare legs doubled up on chairs). The rats could leap onto clothed legs and haul themselves up onto a human lap with no problem at all.

The rats also amazed me with all their social behavior. Three rats have more complex social interactions than two, and my males were more aggressive toward each other than my females had been. It made for a fascinating little society. The rats played with each other, chased each other, and rolled around together. As they grew older they boxed, sidled, and poofed their fur. Widget gradually asserted himself over the two others, and became the socially dominant rat of the threesome. On a few occasions I gave them peas, nuts, and a hard-boiled egg during free range time and watched what they did.

Widget the Irascible

Widget, Cricket and Snip had quite different personalities. Widget was an assertive, bold individual with a muscular, firm body and a mild head tilt. He never bit a human being, but he did not enjoy being held as much as the other two did. He never really relaxed in human hands, but preferred to spend his time chasing his brothers, exploring, and eating. On the whole he tolerated Cricket and harassed Snip. His confident demeanor, combined with his rakish head tilt and curly, unkempt rex fur made him look like a pirate. He eventually bit his brothers seriously, and I separated him from the other two. He still ran about outside their cage during free range time, though, and terrorized them from outside the wire.

Snip was an enigmatic young rat. He was the most cautious of the three in that he was always the last to emerge for a treat or to come to the top of the cage. But he was also the squishiest, most relaxed rat of all of them. He was like a cooked noodle in the hand. Snip usually got along well with Cricket, but had many run-ins with Widget. Widget picked on Snip quite a bit: he chased Snip relentlessly, sidled toward him, cornered him, and a few times even bit him. During free range time Snip frequently ran away and hid from Widget. But oddly enough, Snip also sought Widget out and seemed to pick fights with him on occasion: Snip would block the exit from the nestbox when Widget was inside, for example. Or he'd follow Widget about and make little lunging nips at his face. After Widget was removed, Snip became socially dominant over Cricket, but to my relief he was not as assertive as Widget had been and on the whole, the two got along quite well. Snip became a perfect lap rat as he aged, and from about the time he was two I spent many evenings on the couch with him next to me, cuddled in a nest made out of an old towel, dozing and bruxing while I petted him.

Cricket was a laid-back, mellow individual. He kept his beautiful white-flecked black fur meticulously clean. His smooth black body, white feet, and white belly made him look urbane and well-kept -- he was the most handsome of the three rats. In his full adulthood he was the adventurer: first one out of the cage, first one in a new area, first one to climb the bookcase. He was a dashing young explorer. In temperament he was was mild-mannered and patient. Cricket put up with a lot more from me than either of the other two would, as when I put paint on the rats' feet and had them paint pictures by walking over butcher paper. Widget and Snip did not like this at all, but Cricket put up with it calmly. Cricket was socially subordinate first to Widget, then to Snip after Widget was separated from them. He never picked a fight, but went about his business in a calm and unperturbed manner. As he grew older and less nimble, his main business was eating, and he became the largest rat of the three. He and Snip would curl up together in the hammock, heads on each others' backs, snoozing the afternoon away.

Health-wise, these three males had many more respiratory illnesses than Paint and Smudge, who had had none. They all suffered from occasional bouts of mycoplamsa throughout their lives, and were on antibiotics perhaps five or ten times each. Widget developed a head tilt early in life (probably myco-related), which did not bother him once he got used to it. They developed only a small number of tumors that were easily removed. All three of them lived much longer than Paint or Smudge did. Cricket died suddenly in his cage when he was two years and two months old, possibly of heart failure. He had been in good health so his death was quite a shock, but at least it seemed quick and painless.

Six months later Widget the Irascible recovered from a respiratory illness, but shortly thereafter began losing ground: he refused food and lost strength rapidly over the course of a week. But he did not lose his fighting spirit: even when very weak he would take the tasty morsels I offered to him, lean over, and deliberately drop them off the shelf. His one desire even at the end of his life was for free-range time: he'd press his nose against the door and push with what strength he had left. I'd let him out, and he'd make his way under the computer or into a pile of shredded newspaper to take a nap. He died quietly in his cage one night. It was a calm, peaceful end to a turbulent, feisty life!

Snip developed hind leg degeneration as he aged, so his hind legs became weaker and less able to support his own weight. I gradually adapted the cage for him, lowering the hammock and making a gentler ramp so he could get in to it. Oddly enough, his hind leg weakness didn't seem to bother him too much: he still managed to get around, climb into his hammock, drink from the bottle and eat from a dish. Over the weeks his body temperature dropped a bit, and his breathing became more labored, but he continued to eat eagerly, grab treats, and snooze and brux in my arms while being petted. He passed away peacefully in his cage at the fine old age of two years and ten months.

These three males were a constant source of companionship and amusement and fascination for me. They were a delight to watch as they interacted with each other, their environment, and myself. They inspired me to document what I observed, learn a great deal more about rats, write up my findings, and consolidate my articles into this website. This website is their legacy.

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